The Repertory Theatre of St Louis opened their final studio offering for the season with Venus in Fur by David Ives, directed by Seth Gordon. Thomas, played by Jay Stratton, is a playwright trying to cast his female lead, Vanda (Sarah Nedwek) in an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel Venus in Furs—the novel that coined the term “masochism.” The play is highly entertaining but the promise of seduction was not fulfilled.
The production is strong. The actors are highly accomplished, Nedwek’s Vanda is smoothly mercurial and Stratton’s Thomas adorable but wussy, leading to my first question, what woman wants to dominate the oh-so-easily dominated? Nedwek slides from her street-smart Vanda to the sophisticated, rounded-vowels character of Vanda with skill and ease. Stratton makes Thomas’ manipulated descent into feminine compliance almost plausible. But beyond an intimate moment with some breathtaking footwear, I didn’t feel sex or seduction. For a play that spoke of passion frequently, I would like to have experienced some.
The technical aspects were also quite good, sets, lights, sound, oh-so-period costumes popping out of the bag at just the right moment, all were up to the high technical criteria the Rep continues to set. Seth Gordon’s staging was specific and well-executed. The stage is set with audience on two sides, tennis match style, which made for some difficult sightlines at times but the staging never felt awkward. And while I can appreciate much of the psycho-sexual material, I wasn’t surprised or astounded by, well, anything. This is where Ives fails us, I don’t know what he wants us to take away from this play that we haven’t seen or heard before. Still, there was a lot of post-show discussion on the car-ride home.
Having just finished a second reading of Neil Gamin’s American Gods, there’s a strong connection on the nature of deities that is interesting and a possible explanation for why Vanda shows up on this particular day. If you are unfamiliar with Gaimin’s book, his theory is that gods need worship to maintain their existence. Vanda’s goddess really comes into her own as Thomas’ worship grows. There’s a distasteful correlation to Theresa Rebeck’s Spike Heels in Thomas’ rejection of his waspy, intelligent (read “boring”) fiancée in favor of long blonde hair and a skinny, black leather clad frame with fabulous footwear. There’s some Freud and the nature of kink, which doesn’t go much beyond “I was whipped once and now I like it” and Paula Vogel covers the notion that porn is degrading to women in Hot N Throbbing. So we are left wondering if Ives really thinks he has something new to say, or are we just being entertained by skimpy clothing, bound hands and the promise of “post-coital depression.”
Maybe I just don’t connect with this particular kink. Maybe I was expecting more kink than there actually is, but the promise of “thrilling and provocative?” Meh.
Venus in Fur continues in the studio at the Loretto Hilton through March 24th.